An evening with Pat Metheny at Barbican, London

An evening with Pat Metheny at Barbican, London

25th EGF London Jazz Festival

10th November 2017

Pat Metheny - guitars

Antonio Sanchez - drums

Gwilym Simcock - piano

Linda Mayan-Oh - bass




As he firmly places his fingers on that mutant species, that is a 42-string Pikasso acoustic guitar, the whole audience at the Barbican Hall is gripped in excitement and awe. Metheny then expertly and carefully plucks the strings that resonate profoundly in the hearts, especially when he strums the upper-register of the guitar. The title of the song is Into the Dream, but I suppose everyone in the hall is already inside the dream.

Metheny is supported by a young and talented cast: British pianist Gwilym Simcock, Malaysian-born bassist Linda Mayan-Oh, and the excellent Mexican drummer Antonio Sanchez. With this band, Metheny has the perfect personnels to revisit, reinterpret, and recharge his old tunes. Apart from being one of the world’s best guitarist, he is also one of the most prolific composers spanning 40-year career.

Immediately after the Pikasso guitar improvisation, he begins with a Paul Klee’s painting-inspired So May it Secretly Begin, where the sweetness of the melody may make the tune to be retitled as honey. The excursion then goes back 40 years back, as he revisits his very first title-track of Bright Size Life. The composition may be old, but the song is as fresh as the recently-born organism. It breathes life, enthusiasm, and excitement. Just like its creator.

When one has catalogue of compositions as diverse as Metheny, the possibility is almost endless. On top of that, Metheny himself is a distinguished improvisationalist. He can take the folsky route as evident on his Better Days Ahead (with a delightful solo from Simcock), the expressionism of The Red One, straight-ahead jazz such as What Do You Want and Lone Jack (with extra fire from fiery Antonio Sanchez), delicate balladry of Unity Village and The Bat. Perhaps, the most heartwrenching moment is when he delivers a stunningly beautiful Farmer Trust and masterpiece of Tell Her You Saw Me. Each note is simple, but that exactly where the beauty lies. The simplicity of it, accompanied by the pausing to ensure every note diffuse into every corner of the heart and solemn improvisation to resonate the feeling even more. Gorgeous.  

As the listeners are lulled into nostalgic mood, Metheny then picks another his mutant specimen of acoustic fretless guitar and abruptly sends shockwaves through the room. Gone is the ‘nostalgia band’. Metheny reminds everyone “I am not just a nice guy here. I am an artist that keeps pushing the boundaries”. He almost literally shreds that fretless guitar into avant-garde slash abstract form of music while Sanchez expertly runs together with Metheny with his expansive and staggering piece of drumming. Shock and awe. Another reminder of why Metheny is so revered because he can crosses music 'genres’ with ease, because he only plays meaningful music.

The treat continues as Metheny does a duet with each of his band members. First, he teams up with the bassist Linda Oh to deliver a stunning ballad Change of Heart, which earned him the Grammy Award in 1990. The intimacy is so deep everytime Metheny strums his lightly-pitched guitar and Linda Oh’s deep bass exploration. Next, Simcock joins Metheny to present a classic Phase Dance. The chain of melody keeps growing, especially when Simcock complements Metheny’s glorious lyricism. To end the section, the monstrous duet of Metheny - Sanchez dissects every bit of Question and Answer, where Metheny switches to synthesizer guitar to 'answer’ his own question with emphatic response.

The first encore that he delivers is a beautiful solo-guitar medley that covers a range of songs, including First Circle, Minuano, Last Train Home, and This is Not America. The crowd can feel his reflection as he plucks the part of This is Not America so solemnly and carefully. As if, Metheny quietly says through the language of music that what is currently happening in his homecountry, is not America. The final encore, after rapturous standing ovation, is his stupendous Song for Bilbao, with a sweet portion of improvisation for each of the musician.

In this ever-changing world, Metheny provides reassuring constants: his genius, curiosity, and infectious passion for music. It is an incredible blessing to be able to savour his talent. This is my sixth Metheny’s gig, and perhaps it is the most impressive one so far.

(Picture is courtesy of John Watson from jazzcamera.co.uk) 


Pat Metheny Pikasso on 42-string guitar, Brad Mehldau on piano. Beauty.